by SARAH SQUIRES
Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) is moving ahead with the sale of its shuttered school buildings, though when the final sales of Madison and Central may actually come to a vote is still up in the air. WAPS Superintendent Rich Dahman plans to bring any initial offers to the board table on September 20; that is the same day the board is expected to be briefed on the city’s plans. The city of Winona has a stake in — and some control of — how the properties may be used and redeveloped, and city leaders have called for a reuse study for both historic buildings. They have also expressed interest in Central, or possibly Madison, for use as a new senior center. They plan to push ahead to complete the Madison study by the end of December. The study for Central is not expected to be finished until January.
WAPS initially attempted to sell the schoolhouses using a sealed bid process, and awarded the high bid for Madison and Central — $131,000 and $171,000 respectively — to high bidder Building Value Partners, LLC, this summer. But before the sales were closed, the board realized that Building Value Partners’ bids were flawed and had strayed from the bid parameters. Then, other contenders for Madison and Central threatened to sue, and the board rejected the bids and voted to put them up for sale again, this time using direct negotiations. Rollingstone school, on the other hand, was awarded to MC Properties, LLC, for $80,000, and that sale is expected to be finalized on September 28.
Dahman told the board last week that he had hired Rich Jacobson as a realtor to assist in the Central and Madison sales, and briefed the board on a potential listing agreement contract with him that includes a base price for both schools at $350,000.
Along with the city’s interest in completing a reuse study for the schools, city leaders have also cautioned that rezoning needed for the buildings to be redeveloped for housing won’t be done until they are comfortable with redevelopment plans and have researched the issue though the reuse study. Dahman and some board members noted that selling the schoolhouses before a rezone was complete would likely mean potential buyers would offer much less. I can’t speak for potential buyers, stated Dahman, “but it seems to me that that would have a somewhat chilling effect on people’s willingness to offer more money.”
“Quite a bit of what happens is dependent on the city here,” agreed board member Jeanne Nelson. “The city has much to say in how much money we will get for this property.” She said it would be nice to see the school properties back on the tax rolls, and stated that full city blocks for development are hard to come by in Winona. “Certainly, there’s a need for the senior center. Since there isn’t a lot of space in Winona, this is maybe an appropriate space. Maybe Madison is an appropriate space,” she added, noting the concern among Madison’s neighbors over potential dense residential development there.
Dahman told the board he would bring any offers for Madison and Central to the board at its meeting next Thursday, September 20, when the board is also expected to hear an update on the city of Winona’s plans for the reuse studies and its interest in either of the buildings to house a new senior center. That meeting begins at 6 p.m. at city hall and is open to the public.